London, United Kingdom
Last week, I was perusing a bookshelf at the back of an old, relatively unused classroom. All the books that you would expect to see in a French classroom were there: some Camus, some Proust and a few battered copies of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. I was on the verge of looking away and leaving when my eyes caught on something I never expected to be there. Indeed, lodged between Les Misérables and Voltaire, I saw a clean and yet well-used copy of Divergent by Veronica Roth. Intrigued, I pulled it from its slot and looked inside. It had evidently been left by a bored student to provide some action during a long lesson, and that amused me. Flicking through the pages, a gentle, faded memory came up, more of a feeling than a definitive image. I recalled the thorough enjoyment of being an excited eleven-year-old, savoring every word as it jumped from the page, each phrase resonating in every corner of my body in that strange way only these novels can provide, a feeling of contentment and elevation. Rather surprised at this long-buried memory, I vowed to re-read Divergent when I returned home that night.
I started reading it the same way young British men are meant to read works of literature, head aloof, eyes looking down upon the words and moving quickly across the page, hands turning the pages elegantly. But by the third page, I was hooked. My brain was automatically mimicking that childlike excitement, and I pored over every word, imagining every scene, every expression; every sentence was a line in some abstract play that was occurring in my mind. Divergent reignited something within me, a passion for explosive, adrenaline-fueled literature that I had been neglecting. It made me realize that even adults need this type of action and spirit in their lives. Upon reading the final word, I looked up and released a long, whistling breath as if I had not been breathing from the start, as if all the air had been pent-up in me. I had experienced something almost forgotten, something so tentative and fleeting that it almost belongs in the past, in our childhood—yet revisiting it was the highlight of my week.
Roth’s writing is crisp and concise, and the book progresses at the perfect pace—not slow enough to bore, not quick enough to disorient. The characters are well-formed and complex. Perhaps they aren’t as nuanced as someone from The Fountainhead, but they don’t need to be. Roth is leaving us space to append our own subtleties and intricacies to her characters, and besides, many things are implied, hinted at so delicately that sometimes I can hardly believe they are even there. Tris, the narrator and protagonist, is solid and relatable, but not to the point of cliché; she has her demons, and we are privy to them. Four, the secondary main character, is fragile and almost evanescent in personality—I found myself scrutinizing everything he says, searching for something deeper, something I can add to that illusory performance playing out in the depths of my mind. The premise is fascinating; I usually find dystopia a little perturbing, but Roth twists the genre into something much more, an examination of human nature itself. The fictional ‘factions’ represent the very best and worst of us, and exploring their significance through Tris’s eyes is an exceptional way to explore yourself. After reading it, the book ceased to be merely a work of literature and became a nexus of possibilities, a captivating web of ideas and concepts that I could delve into at my own leisure. Only the very best novels can achieve this, and, as I have come to understand, only those within the YA genre.
I have recently discovered that Roth has released two sequels and a companion. I will be reading them as soon as possible and will report on them next month. In the meantime, readers, I highly recommend having a look at Divergent. It may seem past you, something that should be reserved for pre-teens, but I can assure you that you will be pleasantly surprised.